Tips for Buying a Portable or External Hard Drive

Back up your important data to an external hard drive

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What's the difference between an external hard drive and a portable hard drive? An external hard drive requires an external power source, while a portable hard drive is powered by your computer. If a drive needs to be plugged into an AC outlet to be used, it's an external hard drive. If it doesn't, it's a portable one. While requiring that external power source may seem like a drag, the drive often contains a fan, which keeps it cool and thus keeps your data safer. The downside, of course, is that you need an AC outlet to access the data on the drive.

No matter which one you choose, you'll immediately increase your storage capacity and improve the portability and safety of your data. An external drive is an excellent option for backing up your important data.

When you decide to buy an external or a portable hard drive to use as a backup drive, you'll discover there's a lot of information out there. Here are a few tips to help you with your decision.

How to Select the Right External Drive

Start by figuring out how much storage space you need and then bump it up to the next level of storage. Yes, portable and external hard drives can be expensive, especially the extra-large capacity drives, but you will spend less by graduating now to the next capacity level than you'll spend next year buying an entirely new drive when your storage needs increase.

Maybe you're not a heavy media consumer. You don't download movies, and you don't even listen to music online. You have a computer full of Word and Excel files, and you wisely realize that you need a backup location for them. In your case, you may be eyeing the 80GB or 120GB portable hard drives because of their low price points such as the 80GB Kesu Portable External Hard Drive or the 120GB Bipra 120GB External Hard Drive. Step up to a 250GB drive like the 250GB Maxone Portable External Hard Drive and rest assured that you won't have to do this kind of shopping again for a long time.

If you are a heavy media consumer with a vast digital music library, and you're working on expanding your high-def movie library collection, you're clearly in terabyte territory, and you should go as big as you can afford. Stepping up now saves you money in the long run, and you'll delay having to get that second (or third, or fourth) drive because you've filled up your first one.

If you plan to back up multiple computers at the same time, a network-attached storage (NAS) device or a RAID may better suit your needs. NAS and RAID are device types that are designed for maintaining large amounts of data. A NAS is essentially a computer with a single job—storing data, while a RAID consists of multiple external hard drives working together in one unit. Backing up multiple computers with large amounts of data, you may need to step up to 12TB or 16TB drive such as the WD 12TB My Book Duo Desktop RAID External Hard Drive or the LaCie 2Big Dock 16TB RAID Thunderbolt 3 7200RPM External Hard Drive.

Choose a USB 3.0 Drive

Buy a drive with USB 3.0 capability even if your current computer isn't USB 3.0-capable. You'll eventually replace your computer, and USB 3.0 ports are the standard now. The portable and external hard drives with USB 3.0 are almost all backward compatible with USB 2.0, so you can stick with 2.0 until you make the leap.

Look for Automatic Backup Capability

When you buy your backup drive, get one with automatic backup software. Buying an external or portable hard drive to back up your data is a great first step, but it is worthless if you don't remember to use it. Having automatic backup software takes the burden off you and makes sure backups are made.

The only downside to using automatic backup is that it can slow down your computer's performance. If you have it set to activate when your computer starts up, for example, your computer may run sluggishly until the backup is complete. If you have a lot of files to back up, this could easily take 30 minutes or more. One way to avoid this is to set your external hard drive to back up at the end of the day or at another time you know you won't be using your computer.